Magic Dreams Page 15

“You know Darin’s blind as a bat.” Mrs. Haffey twisted her hands. “He can’t even see what he’s shooting at. The other day he comes running out of the bathroom, screaming and foaming at the mouth. He’d brushed his teeth with Aspercreme instead of toothpaste …”

A note of hysteria slipped into her voice. At five ten, she had eight inches of height on me and she was leaning over. “I called down to the station, but they say it will be twenty minutes or longer. I thought since you were with the Order …”

I used to be with the Order. When I was a Knight of Merciful Aid, it was my job to help people when the cops wouldn’t or couldn’t assist them with the magic hazmat. I had decorations and a stellar service record, but none of it mattered when the Order found out that I was a shapeshifter. They branded me mentally disturbed and unfit for duty and “retired” me.

But they didn’t take away my training or my skills.

I pressed a latch in my wall. A panel slid aside, revealing a small niche that used to be a hallway closet and which I had converted into my own personal armory. A row of gun barrels gleamed in the morning light.

Mrs. Haffey clicked her mouth shut.

Let’s see. I’d be bringing my Sigs, but I needed something with more power. The AA-12, an Automatic Assault 12-gauge shotgun with a 32-round clip was always a good choice. It fired 300 rounds per minute with minimal recoil. I filled mine with steel slugs. Squeeze the trigger once, and get a single shot that would punch through a car door. Hold the trigger, and anything on the other end, no matter how much hard body armor it wore, would become a smoking pile of meat in six and a half seconds. I’d paid a fortune for it and it was worth every dollar.

I grabbed the AA-12 and put on a hip holster, into which I stuck my Sig and its twin. “Mrs. Haffey, I need you to stay here.” I gave her a nice big smile. “Lock the door behind me and don’t open it until I come back. Do you understand?”

Mrs. Haffey nodded.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

I stepped onto the landing and heard the deadbolt slide shut behind me.

The “white substance” stretched in long pale strands over the walls. It resembled a spiderweb, if the spider was the size of a bowling ball and instead of working in a spiral had decided to weave only in a vertical direction. I crossed the landing and inhaled. Usually there was an up-draft here, the air rising from the front entrance to the top of the building. Today no movement troubled the stairway, but I smelled the sharp metallic odor of fresh blood all the same. Tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The predator in me, the other me sleeping deep inside, opened her eyes.

I padded down the stairs, moving silently on the concrete steps, my shotgun ready. Even though magic made my existence possible, it didn’t mean that magic and I played nice. Give me guns over spells any day.

The web grew thicker. At the Haffeys’ landing, it swallowed the walls and the wooden stair rail. I turned, heading down. The stench of blood assaulted my nostrils and I tasted it on my tongue. All of my senses went into overdrive. My heart beat faster. My pupils dilated, improving my vision. My breathing sped up. My hearing sharpened and I caught a distant noise, muffled, but unmistakable: the deep, throaty bark of a bulldog.

I took a few more steps down. Blood stained the stairs. A large amount, at least a couple of pints, possibly more, all in big round drops. Either someone bled and walked, or someone bled and was carried. Please don’t be Darin. I liked Darin and I liked his wife. Mrs. Haffey was always kind to me.

The first floor landing was a narrow tunnel within the web. The door to apartment 1A was intact, but buried in white strands. The same solid wall of white sealed the way downstairs, and none of it was torn. No sign of Darin going that way. The door to 1B lay in a splintered wreck. Bloody marks stretched across the threshold, pointing into the apartment. Someone had been dragged inside.

I stepped into the hallway. A new scent tugged at me, a slightly sour, prickly odor that set off instinctual alarms in my head. Not good.

The apartment had the exact same layout as mine: a narrow hallway, opening into the kitchen on the right, the living room on the left, then the first bedroom, and then a short perpendicular hallway leading to the utility room and guest bathroom, and finally to the master bedroom with a bathroom en suite.

I moved in, nice and easy, slicing the pie around the corner: starting at the wall and moving at a ninety degree angle away from it, leaning slightly away from the wall to see the threat around the corner before it saw me. Jumping around the corners was very dramatic but would get your head blown off.


I moved into the living room.

On the left, by a coffee table, sat a large wicker basket full of yarn. Two long wooden needles stuck out of it at an angle. Next to the basket lay a severed human arm. The blood had pooled from it, soaking the beige wall-to-wall carpet in a dark red stain.

Pale skin. Not Darin Haffey. No, this was likely Mrs. Truman who lived in this apartment with her two cats. She liked to play bridge with her knitting club and collected yarn for “special” projects, with which she never did anything. Now her torn-off arm lay next to the basket with her knitting stash. No time to absorb and deal with it. I still had Darin to find.

I moved on. The sour prickly scent grew stronger.

Bedroom—clear. Bathroom—clear.

A huge hole gaped in the floor of the utility room. Something had smashed through the floor and tile from below.

I circled the hole, shotgun pointing down.

No movement. The floor below me looked clear.

A muffled noise cut through the quiet.

My ears twitched.

Woof! Woof!

Chief was still alive somewhere in there. I jumped into the hole, landed on the concrete floor of the basement, and moved away from the light streaming through the hole. No need to present a clear target.

Gloom filled the basement, dripping from the web into dark corners. The walls no longer existed. There was only web, white and endless.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness. Shapeshifter vision guaranteed that as long as there was some light, I wouldn’t bump into things.

Wet dark smears marred the concrete. Blood. I followed it.

Ahead the concrete split. A long fissure ran through the floor, at least three feet wide. The apartment building was already none too sturdy. The magic hated tall buildings and gnawed on them, pulverizing brick and mortar until the structure crashed down. The bigger the building, the faster it fell. Ours was too short and too small and so far we had escaped unscathed, but giant holes in the basement didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

A snorting noise came from inside the gap. I leaned over it. A whiff of dog-fur stink washed over me. Chief, you silly knucklehead.

I crouched by the hole. The bulldog squirmed below, snorting up a storm. He must’ve fallen into the fissure, and the drop was too sheer for him to jump out.

I put my shotgun on the ground and leaned in, grabbing Chief by the scruff of his neck. The bulldog weighed eighty pounds at least. What in the world were the Haffeys feeding him, small elephants? I yanked him out and jumped to my feet, shotgun in my hands. The whole thing took half a second.

Chief pressed against my leg. He was an Olde English Bulldogge, a throwback to the times when the English Bulldog was used for bull-baiting. A powerful, agile dog, Chief feared neither garbage trucks, nor stray dogs or horses. Yet here he was, rubbing against my calf, freaked out.

I took a second to bend down and pet his big head. It will be okay, boy. You’re with me now.

We started forward, moving slowly out of the first narrow room into a wider chamber. The web spanned the walls, creating hiding spots in the corners. Creepy as hell.

I carefully rounded the corner. At the far wall to my right, two furnaces sat side by side: the electric for the times when technology had the upper hand and the old-fashioned coal-burning monstrosity for use during the waves, when the magic robbed us of electric current. To the right of the coal furnace stood a large coal bin, a four-foot-high wooden enclosure filled with coal. On the coal, half-buried, lay Mr. Haffey.

Two creatures crawled on the concrete in front of the bin. About thirty inches tall and at least five feet long, they resembled huge wingless wasps, with a wide thorax-chest slimming down before flaring into thick abdomen. Stiff brown bristles covered their beige, nearly translucent bodies. Their heads, bigger than Chief’s massive skull, bore mandibles the size of garden shears. Their claws scraped the concrete as they moved—an eerie, nasty sound.

The left creature stopped and planted its six chitin-sheathed legs. Its tail end tilted up and a stream of viscous liquid shot out, adhering to the wall. The creature scrubbed its butt on the floor, anchoring the stream, and moved away as the secretions hardened into pale web.

Ew. Ew, ew, ew.

Mr. Haffey raised his head.

The creatures stopped, fixated on the movement.

I fired.

The shotgun barked, spitting thunder. The first steel slug punched into the right creature, cutting through the chitin like it was paper-thin plywood. The insect broke in half. Wet innards spilled onto the floor, like a bunch of swim bladders strung together. Without a pause, I turned and put a second shot into its buddy. Chief barked next to me, snapping his jaws. The creatures jerked and flailed, dragging their body chunks. The sour, spike-studded odor filled the air.

Darin Haffey sat up in the bin. “I see Kayla dragged you into this.”

I smiled at him. “No, sir, I just came to borrow a cup of sugar.”


The web obscuring the rest of the room to my left tore.

“Incoming,” Mr. Haffey snapped, raising his firearm.

The first insect burst into the open. I fired. Boom!

Two more. Boom, boom!


Boom, boom, boom!

The broken chitin bodies crashed into each other, making a pile of jerking legs and vomit-inducing entrails.

Boom, boom, boom! Boom!

An insect leaped over the pile, aiming for me. I swung the shotgun up. The impact exploded the creature’s gut, spraying foul liquid over me. Bug juice burned my lips. Ugh.

A smaller insect dashed toward me. Sharp mandibles sliced at my leg. You bastard! Chief rammed the creature, ripping into the thing before I could sink a slug into it.

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